As Joel listened across town, he realized that his friend was in deep trouble. She often spoke to him through music but this time it was different. It seemed to be a message with a message and it seemed to be shrouded in darkness. The concern, worry and confusion kept him up the rest of the night. He was scheduled to be off that day, so missing a few hours of sleep shouldn’t affect him too much. He was still sitting on the edge of his bed, a few hours later, when he got a call from the PuB. He paused the song, which he’d been listening to over and over, and answered the call. It was one of his Managers telling him to get to work asap.
Twenty minutes later, Joel pulled into the parking lot of the PiZZa PuB. Noticing that it was deserted, for that time of day, he stepped slowly from his car and went to the front door. As he walked in he noticed that most of all of the employees were there. All shifts were present. ‘Thank you for joining us, Joel,’ said one of the Managers as Joel walked in. Puzzled by the scene of it all, Joel asked, ‘What’s this about?’ ‘We’ll get to that momentarily, Son. Find a seat and we’ll get started.’ This came from one of the men in the room that Joel didn’t recognize. Right away, Joel could tell that this was a serious meeting. Why else would they call everyone together in the middle of the day like this? He looked around and noted that the Chef wasn’t there. Probably refused to come in knowing him. It seemed as though everything at the PuB was finally getting ‘back to normal,’ and now something else was going on. Did the craziness ever end?
‘Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for gathering here today on such short notice. Especially, those of you who were not scheduled to be here today. Let me begin by saying that I am Chief Viktor Vozmann. Chief V for short or you can call me Chief V-2.’ With that Joel let out a sniggle. Glaring in his direction, Chief V continued. ‘Bringing you all up to speed: This morning, around 2am, neighbors of Mr. Aaron Maka called 911 to report loud noises and screams coming from his home. At approximately 2:15am, 3 squad cars showed up and after knocking for 5mins or so entered the home. Seeing the puzzled looks on most everyone in the audience faces, Joel slowly raised his hand. ‘Sooo…who the heck is Aaron Maka?’ More glaring from Chief V and he finally answered, ‘You all knew him as ‘the Chef.’ As I was saying, he was brutally attacked in his home this morning and we’re starting to see a bit of a trend with the PiZZa PuB and its employees… or at least those unfortunate two.’ Joel sat there, as most of the rest, dumbfounded in hearing this devastating news. The employee’s seemed to be being picked off 1 by 1. And now the Chef?! Joel wouldn’t miss his temper-tantrums, but he had grown to like the guy and his crazy ways of communicating.
‘Due to the nature of the deaths and the fact that there have been two in the last couple of months that have involved employees of the PiZZa PuB, my company and I will be launching a full investigation. Because of this, everyone in this room will be closely watched, for your protection of course.’ ‘Our protection!?!’ Joel thought this was funny. In other words, ‘You are all guilty until proven innocent!’ Wonderful. As Chief V continued, Joel’s mind drifted back to the point where he found the iPod. He knew that it wasn’t a coincidence. He was sure he’d seen Suzy Q that day and he was convinced that she’d purposefully left it for him to find. He knew he needed to find her and find her fast. He made it his mission. He tuned back into Chief V’s speech just as he was ending by saying, ‘So for now we’re gonna keep moving forward. The PiZZa PuB is a staple in our community and none of us want to see it’s doors close. Temporarily or for good.’ ‘Amen to that!’ spoke one the Managers as they stepped up to the podium to conclude the meeting. ‘Between the Chef’s Protégée’s we’ll be fine. Joel, we may need to call on you to help out in the kitchen with your delivery orders…but, we’ll discuss that later. Are there any questions?
Over time, the Chef’s death became more of a mystery than the Hostess’ untimely death over the next few weeks. Who would break into his home and brutally murder him? No one had answers and the detectives couldn’t find a clue that helped. No one readily admitted it, but he was missed around the PiZZa PuB. Never much of a people person, he had a certain way about him that grew on you over time. It was quieter around the kitchen now, though. Joel worked in and around the kitchen helping with his delivery orders. He had been given a raise to go along with his extra duties. He found ways to keep himself busy at work and at home. He’d all but given up on finding Suzy Q when one day out of the blue his phone rang: ‘No Caller ID…’ At first he ignored it, figuring it must’ve been a wrong number.
When the caller called back again within seconds, Joel swiped ‘Accept’ and said, ‘Hello, may I help you?’ On the other end there was silence…. ‘Hello?’ Now he heard faint breathing. It was Saturday morning and Joel was preparing to go into work. He really didn’t have time to play around with a ‘Prank-Caller.’ ‘You have about 3 seconds to start talking or I’ma. . . ‘ Music abruptly began to play. He recognized the song, although a little different, almost immediately. It was the same song, different version, that was left on the iPod he’d found. He was drawn in by the words of the song, no matter what version he heard.
At the end of the song, there was a bit of shuffling and a ‘click.’ Joel knew that this meant someone had to have been on the other end. Not being able to call them back was frustrating, and left Joel feeling a bit empty. Now he was sure she must be in trouble, but he had no idea how he could help her. Wanting to reach out and not being able to… Joel’s phone dinged. Someone had sent a text: ‘Meet me in the alley, alone. 3am.’ The sender, only identified by numbers, 622-15, was clear and direct. ‘The alley at 3am?’ This made Joel shudder a bit as he thought about being out there, that time of morning. It was obvious that Suzy Q, or someone, was trying to get his attention. At this point, they had it. He normally finished his shift around 2am on Sunday mornings after a long shift on Saturday, so this would be perfect. He was nervous, excited, concerned and a bit scared to be out there, especially in that area.
Throughout the day he couldn’t stop thinking about his text message. Ever so often, he’d take out his phone and re-read it to make sure he hadn’t missed anything. His stomach was in knots with anticipation all day, yet he had no idea what to expect. By the end of his shift, he couldn’t remember most of it. He finished up around 2am and headed out to the parking lot. Just before he got to his car, he decided to walk. This would take a few minutes so he figured he’d arrive at the alley in plenty of time to catch Suzy Q…if that’s who left him the message. The closer he got to the alley, the harder his heart beat. His chest felt as though it was going to explode at one point. He kept going over what he would say to Suzy Q.It seemed that it had been forever since he’d seen or talked to her.
Always punctual, he had no doubt that Suzy Q was already there waiting for him to arrive. Probably standing in the shadows. Now Joel only had a few more steps before he’d be standing across the street from the alley. He approached the area where he’d found the iPod and stopped there for a moment. The only movement this time of morning was the occasional homeless person dumpster diving, a car passing every now and then. There were also a few rats that traveled along the sidewalks, disappearing into water drains and the occasional sirens blaring off in the distance. Joel stood there looking into the shadows, searching for any movement he could find. The darkness was thick and the street lighting cast even deeper shadows into the alley.
Joel glanced at his watch, 3:05am. He looked up just in time to see something move from the corner of his eye. ‘S-S-Suzy?’ After a few moments of complete silence, ‘Hi, Joel.’ It sounded like Suzy Q’s sweet voice, yet it still startled him because it came from behind him. Spinning around so fast he nearly fell over, he turned to face the opening of the alley. No one was there. Something touched his shoulder and he screamed, spun again, this time falling over himself, looking wildly behind him into the shadows. Crawling backwards towards the alley, the image behind him walked towards him and reached out a hand from the shadows. Suzy Q spoke again, ‘C’mon Joel, get up.’ Under different circumstances, it would have been funny. Hilarious, actually. Joel reached up, took her hand, and noted how easily she lifted him up. It was as if she was twice his size instead of being less that half his size.
He stood in front of her with their eyes locked for a few minutes, then they embraced. He’d missed her more than he could ever say, but his hug told her all she needed to know. Her hug was quite nice, too. Finally, Joel looked down at her and asked the million dollar questions: ‘Suzy, what’s going on? Are you ok?!’ Dressed in all black, with her long black hair and nails, Suzy looked up at Joel with her dark eyes and was about to speak when something moved to Joel’s left. Shifting his stance so that he was standing between Suzy and whatever made the noise, Joel addressed the darkness, ‘Who’s there?!’ More movement and now Joel was in Full Protector mode, ‘Show yourself now or . . .’ Slowly from the darkness an image appeared. It was as if it floated or was riding one of those Hover Boards… As it moved into the dim light, it was as if Joel had seen a ghost.
He could not believe what he was seeing, actually. ‘S-S-Stop!’ Standing before him was the exact image of Suzy Q. Identical to every aspect of her being. Suzy Q-2 spoke, ‘Hi, Joel.’ Confused to the point that he felt as though he was dreaming, Joel stepped away from both of them. Backing slowly towards the alley’s opening, he looked at both Suzy’s and could not differentiate between the two. They looked identical and their voices sounded the exact same. His dream quickly turned nightmarish, when Suzy Q-1 stepped forward and said, ‘Joel, don’t believe her…’ Suzy Q-2 cut her off, ‘I AM the real Suzy Q, don’t believe her!’ Completely baffled by what he was hearing and seeing, Joel could see himself running out of the alley screaming, hysterically. Talking himself out of that, he chose to stand there and face the reality of this nightmare.
Suzy Q-1 spoke, ‘Listen Joel, I can explain everything…’ At that moment, someone grabbed Joel from behind and screamed, ‘All of you, SHUTTUP!!!’ Joel felt something cold and sharp against his throat. ‘Seriously?’ he thought. A would-be Mugger? Now?! This guy would definitely get the prize for the Worse Timing Ever! Award. It was one of those moments when Joel could see himself laughing, hysterically, like someone who’d lost their mind due to a traumatic situation. This was definitely that, and some. It was bananas! He wasn’t sure if he had laughed out loud, but was brought back to the seriousness of the current horrific episode, quickly.
‘That’s right, SHUTTUP and give me all of your valuables or I’ll cut your friend here into itty-bitty pieces!’ Joel could feel his own warm blood running down his neck. The guy, dressed in all black himself, from what Joel could see. He reminded Joel of a Ninja, which was also kinda funny. But, feeling the blade slicing through the top layer of his skin, meant that the Ninja Mugger was dead serious. Suzy Q-1 looked perplexed as she said, ‘No, please don’t hurt him!’ Suzy Q-2 just stood and stared at the Ninja-Mugger saying something in a much lower tone than she’d spoken in earlier. ‘Itty-bitty pieces…itty-bitty pieces….itty-bitty pieces…’ Shifting her focus to Suzy Q-2, Suzy Q-1 said, ‘Suzette, calm down… try to stay calm… Suzette? Suzette?!’ It was clearly too late. As this was happening, Joel was reminded that the REAL Suzy Q’s name was Suzanne. So this IS her twin sister! Mind-blowing. He never knew she had any siblings, much less a Twin Sister!
Suzy Q continued to plead with her sister as they all watch her slip into a different type of darkness. As she continued to repeat, ‘itty-bitty pieces’ she began to transform into something…else. Joel noticed that her eyes became completely black and her skin began to pale and crack. Black bile began to drip then pour from her mouth and as it spilled onto her clothes, they began to fizz and melt away. Grabbing her sister’s hand, Suzy Q yelled, ‘Suzette, Noooooo!’ In all of the excitement, the Ninja Mugger loosened his grip on Joel. As the sister’s hands touched, their skin acted like melted candle wax and they began to become… one. Joel and the Ninja Mugger watched as the two continued to melt into one another, both screaming as darkness swarmed all around them. Joel would never forget this sight as long as he lived. It was something magically marvelous about it, yet terrifying at the same time.
Having become one, they or it rested on its hands and knees looking down at the ground. The black bile, still dripping from it’s mouth, was now fizzing and eating through the concrete as it began to shape-shift again and again and again until it was standing on it’s hind legs about 10 feet in front of Joel and the Ninja Mugger. The Thing, standing at least 8 feet tall it became looked down at them and began saying, ‘itty-bitty pieces’ over and over again. It looked like a grotesque wolf-dog from some sci-fi movie, but it’s musculature was unmistakably defined. Pushing Joel aside like a ragdoll, the Ninja Mugger faced the Wolf-Dog Thing alone holding the blade that once threatened Joel’s life.
Crawling deeper into the shadows, Joel looked back to see the Wolf-Dog Thing crouch down on all fours and take a step towards the Ninja Mugger. It’s yellow eyes pierced the darkness and Joel figured the Ninja Mugger had about as much chance against the Wolf-Dog Thing as a One-Legged Man in an ass-kicking contest. Apparently, the Ninja Mugger figured that out, too, as he abruptly turned to run out of the alley. He took only three strides before the Wolf-Dog Thing, moving twice as fast, took a swipe at one of his legs with it’s powerful arm. It had 3 thick black talons that were sharper than the Ninja’s blade, as he figured out when one of his legs went flying off into the darkness of the alley. With blood pouring from the area, the Ninja Mugger fell and slid to the edge of the alley. With its other arm, the Wolf-Dog Thing snatched the him back into the darkness where it came face to face with the One-Legged Man.
He began to scream and beg for Joel to help him as the bile dripped, fizzed and melted away his face. So loudly that Joel covered his ears and looked away. It must’ve annoyed the Wolf-Dog Thing, too, because it silenced the Ninja Mugger quickly. A few minutes after that and most of the Ninja Mugger’s body was gone as it fed. Fearing that he would be next, and hoping that the Wolf-Dog Thing was too busy to notice him, Joel began to quickly crawl towards the opening of the alley. In his blind haste, he knocked over some bottles, breaking a few of them. He might as well have turned a spotlight on himself as he froze and turned slowly to see if the Wolf-Dog Thing had heard him. It had and moved quickly to back Joel up to the wall, coming face to face with him. As it stood over him, the black bile now gone, it didn’t speak, but stared at Joel intently. Enough time passed that Joel realized he wasn’t in any danger. After some time, he sensed Suzy Q speaking to him. He figured it must’ve been telepathy because the thing’s mouth never moved. As flashing lights and sirens closed in, he heard her voice clearly, ‘Joel, I’m so sorry about all of this… Just know that I’ll always love you and I’ll always be there to protect you.’
Chief V and his team were the first of many to arrive at the alley that night. They found Joel staring off into space, breathing but in a comatose state. He wouldn’t be a bit of help to Chief V and his team seeing as how he would remain in this state for years to come. The mystery surrounding the deaths of the Hostess, the Chef or the Ninja Mugger would remain and their cases would never be solved.
Three decades later, Mr. J. Johnston, now an old man, would end up living in a facility for the elderly with mental breakdowns. He rarely spoke, but seemed fully conscious of his surroundings. The ‘campfire stories’ surrounding Old Man Johnston were quite interesting. Some were also quite scary. Nevertheless, it was well known that he was seen after by a very wealthy young lady, who paid the facility top dollars to make sure he was ‘comfortable.’ She’d recently had an additional wing built in his honor, naming it after him. He was being moved into his new wing, by two New Orderlies, when one of them ‘challenged’ the stories and the validity of some of the ‘break room talk’ that had been going around.
As the two packed up Mr. J’s room, he sat quietly staring out the window. ‘So you think any of those stories are legit, Bro?’ asked Orderly-1 ‘Man, I dunno… Seems kinda far-fetched if ya ask me,’ said Orderly-2. ‘You think that young girl is his daughter?’ ‘I dunno, she seems kinda young. What would an old dude like Mr. J know about having a kid that young?’ ‘Well, alls I know, is that she’s cute and she’s loaded! You see how she had a whole wing built on to this place and named it after Mr. J!’ ‘Yeah, you gotta have some serious fetti to pull that kinda stuff off. She looks like she’s in her early to mid-20’s so I guess she could be his daughter.’ ‘Maybe he adopted her…,’ said Orderly-1 looking at a photo of Suzy Q. Old Man Joel had several pictures of Suzy Q around his room and he was in most of them with her.
Over the years she had kept her promise to always love and protect him. Visibly speaking,, she had barely aged from the day he’d first met her. But she, and her Suzette, had been on Earth for Centuries. He continued to stare out of the window, not paying much attention to the ignorant Orderlies as they continued to ‘Jibber-Jabber.’ It was Fall and the golden brown hue on most of the trees, across the way, was gorgeous. He and Suzy Q loved the Fall and staring out of the window he swore he saw them playing in the fallen leaves across the huge yard. He never saw the both of them at the same time again, since that horrific night 30 years ago, but always sensed the two of them around him from time to time.
They also took turns coming to see him so most of the pictures were of both of them at different times, unbeknownst to any of the Staff at the facility. Old Man Joel viewed them as one because after all of these years, he still could not tell them apart. They were completely identical. The Orderlies, known for being rude to the facilities patients broke a lot of procedures when it came to caring for patients. When it was time to leave, Orderly-1, transferring Old Man Joel from his rocking chair to his wheel chair, grabbed him underneath his frail arms, hoisted him up and dropped him into his wheelchair. ‘There you go, Pops!’ Old Man Joel let out a grunt as he landed in his wheelchair. ‘And I thought he didn’t talk?!’ said Orderly-2. With that the inappropriate banter and laughter began. ‘Hey weren’t we ‘sposed to bathe this Old Stinker before we moved him?’ ‘Let the next shift get him. We won’t have to deal with him after this, now that he’s moving to his new Penthouse.’ More laughter… ‘Hey, right? Ain’t like he got no hot date or nothin’!’
They continued with the insults and laughter as they rolled Old Man Joel to his new quarters. ‘I wonder though, that Pretty Little Thing might be showing up today to make sure everything’s ok.’ ‘Heck yeah, if so, I’ll see if she’s got any plans for this evenin’…’ Still laughing, they made it to Old Man Joel’s new area. ‘Wow! Would ya lookit the size of this room?!’ Even Old Man Joel was impressed as he smiled a sly smile. Everything in the room was white. The bed, the sheets, the dresser, the chairs, the sofa, the clock, the TV…. EVERYTHING. One of the Orderlies snatched him up out of the chair and haphazardly laid him across his new king size bed. The other pushed his suitcases in the closet, not bothering to unpack any of his belongings. Quite rude, indeed. Knowing that the Orderlies would clock-out around Midnight, Old Man Joel was confident that the “Pretty Little Thing” would show up. More than likely, meeting the Orderlies in the parking lot as they attempted to leave the facility. But “she” wouldn’t be “pretty” or “little.” And Old Man Joel was absolutely right.
That night, as the two Jokesters headed for the parking lot, it was waiting in the shadows. . .